March 12, 2003
Clifford the Big Red Water Treatment Problem
famous old observation about
Pluto and Goofy, about how weird the rules of anthropomorphism in the Disney
universe are. Pluto is a dog and Goofy is a kind-of-dog, but one is a dog-dog
and the other a master-dog, except that the dog-dog also has a kind of sentience
as well, at a sort of sub-Scooby Doo level.
adding to my personal file of similar observations a lot lately, watching childrens
television and reading children's stories with my 2-year old daughter. Heres
the latest bunch.
1. Doesnt Clifford the Big Red Dog create a serious sanitation problem for that oh-so-perfect little island town he lives in? Werent the villagers actually correct to object to his arrival for that very reason? Who is paying for the not-inconsiderable costs of cleaning up after him? And how exactly do they do it, anyway?
2. On the same
subject, Clifford the Big Red Dog got big because Emily Elizabeth loved him
so much, not because he is a mutant or freak. Doesnt that mean that all
other dogs in the world are not loved nearly so well? Shouldnt every other
dog feel sad at being so relatively unloved that they remain their natural size?
3. Why doesnt
the wolf eat Little Red Riding Hood the first time he meets her in the forest
and asks her where shes going? Why go through all the folderol of dressing
up as grandma?
4. What the hell
is up with the world Little Bear lives in? Its animal-anthropomorphic
except that there are humans in it, too. The animals dont behave like
animals at all sometimes and other times behave perfectly like their source
species. For example, Father Bear fishes with a fishing pole while wearing a
suit, but his brother Rusty fishes by swiping at the fish with a paw and throwing
them up on the river bank. The animals are a really weird mix: they live in
what looks like a European or North American forested area with mountains in
the distance, but they run the gamut from domesticated animals to wild animals
that belong in that environment to wildly out of place animals like a monkey.
At least a show like Oswald or Maggie and the Ferocious Beast
is consistently whimsical.
5. Where are Max
and Rubys parents? They have a grandmother who has come to visit them
at least once. There is never even a hint that they have a mother or a father.
6. What are the
rules governing monster genetics on Sesame Street? Do monsters have parents
that look somewhat like themselves, or completely different? Are grouches monsters,
or something else entirely? It doesnt help matters that the parents of
some monsters like Elmo have been visualized differently on different occasions
or in different media.
7. I was stunned
to find out in one episode that Bing and Bong of Tiny Planets are friends,
not father and child. So whats up with these two? One hates to pull a
Bert-and-Ernie-are-gay at the drop of a hat, but
8. Speaking of
Bert and Ernie, the Journey to Ernie segment that appears in current
runs of Sesame Street is a pretty devastating confirmation of Malcolm
Gladwells thesis that Blues Clues has displaced Sesame
Street as the template for educational television. Its like a really
bad version of Blues Clues. More importantly, Ernie cheats. Poor
Big Bird has no real chance of finding Ernie before the third box, even though
he ought to have a chance, judging from the apparent rules of the game. At least
with Blues Clues, the rules make sense: no guessing before finding
the final clue.
9. What's with
Caillou being bald? And why are US toymakers reluctant to show him being bald?
Its really hard to find a Caillou toy where hes allowed to be bald
like on the show: they always give him a hat or put soap bubbles on his head
or some such.
10. What is the deal with the character Sarah Phillips on the show Libertys Kids? Shes a loyal Tory monarchist who also believes passionately in equal rights for all people. Er, right. (The whole show is history-by-committee: it not only manages to indulge in excrutiatingly calculated kinds of inoffensiveness but also manages to make the American Revolution even duller than it is in school textbooks.)